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Faces of Cotton

Veteran’s Day

Patriotic Flag and Veteran's Flag on Tractor in Texas

Today, we dedicate Faces of Cotton to the men and women who have served, fought and protected our country. In honor of Veterans Day, we share stories of those who served our country and also serve our cotton industry.

Kirby Lewis – Cotton Farmer

U.S. Navy – Naval Aviator/Flight Instructor

Kirby Lewis with his grandparents after flying into Reece Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas, on a TA-J4 Skyhawk aircraft.

1981-1991

Kirby Lewis farms cotton in Floyd, Hale and Lubbock Counties. But in a different life, he served as a naval aviator for 6 years, 9 months and 15 days.

“I remember the exact amount, because it was required for my application to Laughlin Air Force Base, where I spent four years with the 96th Flying Training Squadron.”

He joined because he wanted to experience landing on an aircraft carrier. “I didn’t realize I’d have to live on it. An ocean carrier can get crowded with 5,000 airmen and sailors packed in it for a six-month tour.”

After graduating from Texas Tech University with a agricultural engineering degree, Lewis went on to fly E-2C Hawkeyes with Carrier Air Wing 9. “I had 2,100 flying hours by the time I completed two tours on aircraft carriers.”

He went on to fly T-2C Buckeyes as an instructor with Training Wing 3 at NAS Chase Field in Beeville, Texas for another 1,500 flying hours.

He now farms with his son, which he said he wouldn’t trade for the world.

“I think if everyone had military service experience, this country wouldn’t be as divided as it is today. There’s nothing more unifying than serving together as Americans for America.”

Randy West – Assistant Manager, Long S Gin

Army Sergeant First Class

1987-1997

Everyone in Randy West’s family has served in the military. His grandfather retired after 36 years of service; his father served in the U.S. Coast Guard; his oldest brother served in the U.S. Navy; his little brother was in the U.S. Army; and his son served 12 years in the U.S. Navy.

“After his service, my dad was a Baptist preacher, and I was a rebel child. I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for the Army — you grow up quick in the service.”

West fought in Desert Storm, spending five months stationed in Kuwait. “There are some things you just don’t talk about. Some things I don’t want to think about.”

West has two module truck drivers, Jose Hierro, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and Norman Grayson, who served in the U.S. National Guard, and PCG thanks them for their service.

“I learned honor, trust, work ethic and selflessness during my service. It’s not about you anymore when you’re in the military. I went from a selfish high school kid to a changed adult, which is why I believe everyone should go through basic training right out of high school.”

Travis Broiler

U.S. Marine Corps

2004-2008

Travis Broiller and his wife, Stephanie. Photographer: Teala Ward.

Travis Broiler joined the U.S. Marine Corps right out of high school, motivated in part by 9/11 and in part by his grandfather, who also served as a Marine.

“I don’t think people understand the mental toll it takes on a person to serve in the military.”

Broiler deployed to Iraq for two years as a Marine. When he came back and enrolled in college, he felt lost. “I had trouble finding purpose outside of the service, so I dropped out of college and went back as a contract worker for a security company.”

Another three years in Iraq and Broiler was ready to come back home. Growing up in an agricultural community and heavily involved in FFA, Broiler knew he wanted to farm. He custom farms in the Clarendon, Texas area.

“You grow up quickly in the service. I learned loyalty, commitment, dependability, but above it all, I learned to be on time.”

George Pfeiffenberger

Plains Cotton Growers Inc. when it was founded

Plains Cotton Growers Inc. when it was founded

It’s hard to know where to go if you don’t know where you’ve been.

While working on a historical timeline for Plains Cotton Growers, I’ve been transported back to another time where they wore suits and ties in cotton fields and paved the way for cotton in the Texas High Plains.

I’ve found some true gems along the way, including the vote to establish Plains Cotton Growers Inc. where the minutes state: “The decision was so unanimous that a negative vote was not requested.” These people wanted better for cotton in this area. But none more so than the man I’m going to talk about today.

While elbows deep in boxes of newspaper clippings, meeting minutes and black-and-white photographs, I pieced together the story of PCG’s first executive vice president: Mr. George W. Pfeiffenberger. It wasn’t that hard to do. He took copious notes and even wrote a brief autobiography.

George Pfeiffenberger portrait photo

Pfeiffenberger wasn’t a native of Texas. He was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, but his coursework in textiles at Texas A&M, combined with his knowledge in fiber quality, made him an attractive candidate to head PCG. He began his cotton career in 1930 with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Cotton Division, and was one of the first technologists in the newly formed cotton fiber laboratory in Washington D.C.

“This was the beginning in the U.S. of the first real program of cotton fiber research on a scientific basis,” Pfeiffenberger writes.

During the 15 years he spent with USDA, he learned the basic structure of fibers and the measurements of their chemical and physical properties, while also collaborating in developing new methods and instruments for fiber measurement and research.

I started to get a feel for a very serious man who meant business. And, while I know he did take his career seriously, he had another interesting pastime. Pfeiffenberger was a cartoonist.

He completed a correspondence course in cartooning and eventually became a freelance cartoonist for the sports section of the Dayton Morning Journal while attending college in Ohio. (I’ve been searching for an original sketch — so far, no luck.) Later in life, he would even provide editorial cartoons on cotton to industry publications.

In 1945, he moved to Lubbock where he assumed the role of Cotton Research Director for the Chicopee Manufacturing Corporation (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson).

Another reason he was a shoo-in for the PCG job was his experience in all facets of cotton.

  • 1945: developed an air-flow instrument for cotton finesse, rapid enough for large volume testing and commercial use, which “ante-dated the micronaire by about two years.”
  • 1954: employed as research director for the Otto Goedecke Company, cotton merchants of Halletsville, Texas, during which time he “traveled the U.S. and Europe extensively, giving lectures and acting as mill consultant for raw cotton purchases and utilization, specializing in cleaning and in specifying blends for particular uses.”
  • 1955-1956: employed as cotton technologist of the National Cotton Council, continuing his extensive travel and educational work. He specialized in cotton packaging during this time and inspired interest in cotton bagging and automatic sampling with several firms to provide an improved package for U.S. cotton.
  • 1956: at the request of Texas High Plains cotton industry leaders, Mr. Pfeiffenberger assumed the position of Executive Vice President of Plains Cotton Growers Inc., an organization whose members annually produced over 15% of the total U.S. cotton crop.

 

Men Meeting at conference on Farm Labor

From left to right: George Pfeiffenberger, John D. Smith, Littlefield, PCG vice president, Wright G. Boyd, Lamesa, Howard Hurd, Brownfield, George Mahan at the Conference on Farm Labor.

I’d like to think that his work in the industry is partially responsible for the 25% to 35% U.S. production currently attributed to the High Plains.

Pfeiffenberger had many accolades, including: “Man of the Year” by Cotton Digest Magazine, and an Honorary Doctorate from Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University).

“George was the hardest working man I had ever met,” said Don Johnson, who served as George’s executive assistant from 1960 to 1964 before assuming the role of PCG executive vice president. “He dedicated his life to Plains cotton.”

George Pfeiffenberger with cotton industry representatives.

George Pfeiffenberger (left) with cotton industry representatives.

In 1964, Johnson randomly decided to go down to the office on a Saturday when PCG was normally closed. He walked through the door to find Pfeiffenberger (who often worked on weekends) clinging to his desk. He suffered a heart attack and passed away suddenly at the age of 56.

His legacy and life’s work were dedicated to the establishment of Plains Cotton Growers and the enhancement of Plains cotton’s global reputation. Pfeiffenberger initiated our core mission to provide premier service to cotton producers and the cotton industry in all things related to legislation, research, promotion, and service for the High Plains. The impact of his efforts were felt throughout the state of Texas, so much so that State Senate resolution No. 184 by then Sen. H.J. “Doc” Blanchard was written Feb. 25, 1965, which states:

“Resolved: That the Senate of the State of Texas by this Resolution recognizes the great loss to this state by the death of George W. Pfeiffenberger, and extends its sincere sympathy to the members of his family; and be it further that copies of this Resolution be prepared for his wife and two children, and that when the Senate adjourns this day, it do so in memory of George W. Pfeiffenberger.”

Signed by Lieutenant Gov. Preston Smith.

Old Magazine Article of George Pfeiffenberger Plains Cotton Growers

 Read the Resolution here.

Peyton Wilde

Peyton Wilde standing in field of cotton

On Oct. 13, 2022, Peyton Wilde brought in the first bale of the season for Idalou Coop Gin. I shared the post on the Plains Cotton Growers Facebook page, not realizing how exciting it would be for people to see his name and photo on the page.

When I spoke with Idalou Coop Gin General Manager Keith Grayson, he had one thing to say about the producer from Lubbock County. 

“Peyton will put in twice as many hours on a tractor, spray rig or stripper than two normal hands in a week.”

I say this all the time, but one of the things I love about this job is the opportunity to share the stories of upstanding, wholesome, humble people. The following is a Q&A with Peyton Wilde, recently elected Idalou Coop Gin board member.

Q: Why did you choose to farm for your livelihood?

A: Well, it’s all I’ve known. My dad farms in Wall, Texas. I couldn’t tell you what generation farmer I am — I just know that my family has been farming since they got off the boat in the 1800s. I landed a job as a farm hand with Brandon, Mike and Norine Patschke while in college, and they mentored me and made it possible for me to farm for a living. I initially thought I was going to be an ag teacher, but quickly realized it wasn’t for me.

Q: Is this the worst year you’ve had as a farmer?

A: Personally, as a farmer with my own land, I would say yes. However, 2011 was really bad, too, and I was working for the Patschkes by that point. I would say that 2011 was hotter and dryer than this year, but input prices weren’t near as high. This year, the market has been so volatile and combining that with high input prices makes for a tough year. It can be depressing to look at it and think about it. Everyone that works on the farm can get down about this year we’re having.

Q: With the year as challenging as it has been, what makes you get up in the morning and face the day?

A: I’ve always had the philosophy that if you get up and hit the ground running before your brain catches up, you’ll have a decent day. And there’s always the chance that something will change for the better. One time, I had some friends ask me why I was trying to get a crop going when it was so dry. I told them you never know what’s going to happen. That very night it rained and kept raining and it was the best crop we had ever produced. You just never know what might turn around in your favor. And you definitely won’t know if you give up. In this country, you have to keep fighting.

Q: How many acres do you think you’ll harvest this year?

A: Well, all of our dryland is gone, but we’ll harvest 30% of our irrigated. We failed a lot of acres and could have failed more, but it’s hard to do that when you know how badly the world needs cotton.

Q: Is there value in a support system as a farmer?

A: Definitely. I still work with the Patschkes plus farm my own land, but if something needs work on my land, you can find them out there fixing it for me. We all just work together. And my family is amazing. They taught me everything I know about farming and helped me with a down payment for my first farmland purchase. I have great friends in the farming industry that I can visit with and learn from. I just surround myself with good farmers and hope it rubs off on me.

Q: Were you trying to get the first bale into Idalou Coop Gin?

A: No, not necessarily — first bale is generally not your best cotton, especially on irrigated. I harvested that bale off of the first farmland I ever purchased, which is neat.

Q: What’s the most beneficial thing you’ve learned while farming?

A: The Patschkes have always been proactive and progressive in farming and I’ve learned a lot from that approach. We are big believers in cover crops and soil health so we rotate crops in like hay grazer and wheat. Half of our irrigated fields use drip irrigation. The Patschkes were one of the first farming operations to implement drip in Lubbock County. 

And I learned early on that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

The good Lord put me on this Earth to be a cotton farmer, so I’m going to farm cotton.

Eric Wanjura

Eric Wanjura speaking to college students

There are people out there that do the work — yet few people know they do it. They are quiet, reserved, happy to do things behind the scenes. They don’t need the glory of other men, nor do they handle it well when it’s given to them. Their big hearts are driven to action and good deeds with less talk.

When they do talk, it doesn’t even occur to them to ensure they get credit for their good deeds, often citing someone else’s impact that achieved the goal.

But sometimes, it’s necessary to bring these people out of the woodwork — to give them the spotlight they’re not always comfortable with. When you experience difficult years, especially this one, it’s nice to know that there is hope for humanity in the stories of wholesome people.

Meet Eric Wanjura.

All in the Family

While Wanjura didn’t grow up on a farm, agriculture was a big part of his life growing up. His father, Don Wanjura, served as a research scientist and agricultural engineer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS). His research work in irrigation scheduling helped in the development of drip irrigation systems.

His mother, Sue Wanjura, grew up in a family that farmed cotton around Southland, Texas. Wanjura’s brother, John, followed in their father’s footsteps, and is currently an agricultural engineer for the USDA-ARS.

The American Parents

Wanjura and his wife Christine have been married for 27 years and have three children. But in 2015, three children turned into five overnight.   

The Wanjura children attended Christ the King Cathedral School, which operates an international exchange student program. From ninth grade to senior year, two such exchange students, Chen and Eric, lived with the Wanjuras and still visit during the summer and holidays.

“They call us mom and dad — their American parents,” Wanjura added. “While it was hard to raise five kids during that time, it was a great reward for us. Having them and their families as a part of ours has been a great blessing.”

Their oldest biological child, Sarah, earned her food science degree from Texas Tech University and now works as product development manager for HEB’s “Meal Simple” programs.

Wanjura Family

Christine, Eric, Ben, Sarah, Hugh, Chen and Eric Wanjura.

Their second, Ben, is a senior at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A few weeks ago, the academy had job drops, where they figure out what their first assignment will be after graduation.

“Ben has wanted to be a pilot ever since he graduated high school,” Wanjura said. “The pilot slots are very competitive, but he got a pilot assignment. We are very excited for him.”

Their youngest, Hugh, is a freshman at Texas A&M University and part of the Corps of Cadets. Chen is also at Texas A&M, while Eric is attending University of California, Davis.

“I’ve thought often about the Chinese one-child policy that China had for years and how these parents send their only children to the U.S. for an education,” Wanjura added. “I’m glad we were able to take care of Chen and Eric like they were our own and give their families peace of mind.”

Prepared for the Role

Wanjura wasn’t looking for a job change while working for PCCA in their gin accounting and field services division, but Ron Harkey, then president and CEO of Farmers Cooperative Compress (FCC) had a plan in mind.

“I got a call out of the blue from Ron saying they were looking for a manager for their Plainview location,” Wanjura said.

As manager of the FCC Plainview plant for 10 years, Wanjura gained experience in warehousing, seeing as he wasn’t familiar with it before then moved back to Lubbock as vice president of Administration — maybe that was the plan all along?

 

Eric Wanjura

“Looking back, I can see moments, meetings that I was invited to, and even opportunities that I was given by Ron to prepare me to take over his job,” Wanjura added. “To see how well he prepared me to take his role — he didn’t have to do that. And the Board of Directors didn’t have to appoint me, either. The faith that Farmers Cooperative Compress has put in me over the years is humbling.”

According to Wanjura, one of the greatest things Ron Harkey did was succession planning prior to his retirement. He spent years before the event planning for a smooth transfer of leadership that would benefit FCC. “He truly cared about the organization and wanted to leave it better than he had found it,” Wanjura added. “He was a great mentor and still a wonderful friend.”

Harkey’s love of service lives on in Wanjura’s goals as the new CEO and president of FCC, not just because of Harkey’s mentorship, but also stemming from a life of service.

A Heart for People

Year one: take over Farmers Cooperative Compress (FCC) during global pandemic with short crop year.

Year two: manage record busting 2021 crop amid a worldwide supply chain nightmare.

Year three: enter 2022 — the upcoming new historical benchmark of low yielding cotton due to a ravenous drought.

Eric Wanjura hosts the Texas Tech University MILE program at FCC.The MILE Program provides unique leadership and professional development experiences during a three-semester cohort, which is up of 14 selected students that represent each Davis College undergraduate academic department. Students enroll in a MILE course each semester of the cohort and receive a leadership certificate upon completion of the MILE Program.

Suffice it to say, it’s been an eventful two and a half years for FCC’s new president and CEO Eric Wanjura.

During the Plains Cotton Growers Inc. Board of Directors Meeting in July, Wanjura left early with a heavy heart. Due to the catastrophic 2022 crop year, he was having to let some FCC employees go.

Last year, FCC received 2.6 million bales. Their current estimate for this year is 580,000. When you are only receiving 22% of the bales you received the year before, management becomes difficult.

“Unfortunately, we had to lay off about 55 employees, which we hated to do,” Wanjura said. “It’s like losing a part of your family.”

FCC went through a similar situation in 2011 and Wanjura is hoping the outcome will be the same as it was then.

“These employees knew it was coming,” he added. “They watch the news and knew what was going on. When we had to reduce staff in 2011 when the drought was so bad, we were thankfully able to hire them all back the following year. We fully plan and hope for this to happen for the 2023 crop year.”

The FCC relationship with its staff transfers to producers, as well.

“We’re here to serve our membership,” Wanjura said. “We want to serve our staff and we want to serve our farmers, our customers.

“We truly strive to protect and enhance the value of our members’ cotton, not just because we want their business, but because, like our staff, they, too, are our family.”

Glenn GT Thompson

Glenn Thompson

Down in the Nittany Valley at the central ridge of the Allegheny Mountains sits Howard, Pennsylvania. This metropolis in Centre County of 720 people and one traffic light is where Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Pa.) was born and raised by loving parents. After serving during the Korean War in the U.S. Navy, Thompson’s father went to school to become a tool and dye maker. He would freeze his retirement 15 years later and build a sporting goods store in his front yard, where he and his wife ran the business together.

While most teenagers enjoyed sleeping in on the weekends, Thompson was up at 6 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays to open the store. “What I wouldn’t give to sleep till six nowadays,” he added.

Thompson’s grandfather was a dairyman, but Thompson’s father couldn’t take over the family business as many dairy farms in the area were lost through eminent domain to build the Foster J. Sayers Dam at the Bald Eagle State Park.

“At least two generations have mostly passed since the first drops of water flowed over the spillway, heading downstream to join the Susquehanna River,” according to the Centre County Gazette. “But the children and grandchildren of the property owners most affected by the dam, or the ‘damn dam’ as they call it, still vividly recall the impact of the project on the town and surrounding farms.” It’s no surprise Thompson adamantly supports private property rights.

The farms Thompson’s family once worked are now at the bottom of a lake in Bald Eagle State Park. Thompson’s father would guide boats across the lake where the family dairy farms once stood — instead of herding cattle, he was herding fisherman. “The irony isn’t lost on me,” Thompson added.

Thompson married into the executive branch. “She was my seventh-grade class president,” he said of his wife, Penny. They were blessed to raise three boys in their hometown and the boys even graduated from the same high school as their father. “Rural living is all I’ve ever known,” Thompson added.

Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Pa.) and “Rooster” at the Congressman’s home in Howard, Pennsylvania.

It’s been quite a journey for Thompson to become the Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee with some unconventional stops along the way.

Health Care

Thompson identified his life purpose at 11 years old. As a Boy Scout, he engaged in many service projects, one of which was washing the city fire trucks. Not only was it one of the highlights of his childhood — who wouldn’t want to climb all over a fire truck? — but it instilled in him a desire to make a difference in the lives of other people. To serve.

To pay for tuition while in college, Thompson worked the night shift of a local nursing home and fell in love with health care. He earned a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic rehabilitation and dual master’s degrees: one in therapeutic rehabilitation and one in health science.

Thompson spent the next 28 years working as a therapist rehabilitation services manager where he worked to restore patients’ quality of life. Sometimes restoration wasn’t possible, but that didn’t stop Thompson. A man in his late 20s had significant neurological impairment from Lyme’s disease and was living as a quadriplegic completely dependent on everyone for survival. When he came to Thompson’s rehabilitation facility, he engaged in aquatic therapy. In water, without gravity to chain him to a chair or bed, he could move his limbs and take a slight step. “We couldn’t help him achieve more mobility or independence in the long term,” Thompson said. “However, watching him achieve a minute amount of freedom while in the water was something I will never forget. Obviously, the aquatic therapy provided physical benefits, but when we got in the water, the emotional lift that man experienced could not be matched.”

More than a decade after he stopped working in therapeutic rehabilitation, Thompson will have people thanking him for how he changed their child’s life, grandmother’s life, their own life.

From Washing the Fire Truck to Driving It

Living in a small trailer just outside of Howard with his new wife, Thompson lay awake listening to the fire whistle sound off about a mile away. Wee-oww, wee-oww, wee-oww.

He found out the next day that a structure fire had killed a young mom and her infant son.

“I couldn’t handle it,” Thompson added. “I couldn’t handle it.”

He joined the volunteer fire department that day and served just shy of 30 years — 20 of which he spent as president of the company. When asked why he became a state-certified firefighter, EMT and rescue technician, Thompson replied, “There was a need.”

The Road to Congress

Thompson was 12 years old when he won his first election: assistant patrol leader. Years later he ran for an appointment the Bald Eagle Area School Board. Community involvement was a passion for Thompson and he decided he wanted to take it further.

Thompson ran for state representative and lost. Twice.

A few months after his last loss, Rep. John Peterson (R-Pa.) announced he would not run for reelection.

“I was heartbroken,” Thompson said. “Literally heartbroken because he was my champion. He was my go-to guy, and you would think that I would be celebrating his retirement, right? But I wasn’t.”

Eight people in the Republican Party announced they were running for Peterson’s seat before Thompson threw his hat in the ring. “I was the last one to sign up to run and had no money.” Three of his opponents spent $3.5 million on their campaigns collectively. Thompson raised $24,000 and saved some of it for the celebration party, just in case.

He won the primary by 1%.

The Congressman

After winning the election against Democratic nominee Mark McCracken by 16%, Thompson was the House representative for Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District — Thompson was redistricted to the 15th Congressional District in the 2018 election by order of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

When he chose to serve on the House Agriculture Committee, he received many questions. “Why would you serve on the ag committee when you’re from Pennsylvania?” Pennsylvania’s biggest commodity is dairy, but it’s surprisingly diverse. According to Thompson, the state boasts the finest hardwoods, many vineyards and fruit trees in the southern region, livestock, all the row crops are represented, and it’s the world epicenter for mushrooms. After a while though, Thompson got tired of his long explanation to that question and started saying, “I like to eat.”

His tie to the cotton industry is through his friends. “Mike Conaway (House Representative from 2005 to 2021 who served as both chair and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee.) taught me a lot about cotton and I taught him about trees seeing as he literally had a town in his district called Notrees, Texas,” Thompson added. “He and Colin Peterson (House Representative from 1991 to 2021 who served as both chair and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee two different times.) both educated me on the cotton industry.”

As Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee, Thompson has a seat at all hearings by the full committee and subcommittees. He is present at every hearing. “I work very hard to show up and participate in the subcommittee hearings scheduled — this work is important.”

Looking Toward the 2023 Farm Bill

If Thompson does chair the House Agriculture Committee in November, he plans to prioritize the upcoming Farm Bill and amp up the intensity of discussion. By this time in 2018, 100 Farm Bill hearings by full committee and subcommittees had been conducted. As of June 14, 2022, there have been 12. While frustrated by the slow progress — especially considering almost 200 members of Congress have never voted on a Farm Bill before — Thompson is ready to figure out what works and what doesn’t. “The point of these hearings is to improve upon the previous legislation,” he added. “If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it. However, there may be some things that need tweaking to benefit our farmers, ranchers and foresters.” When asked about a possible extension of the 2018 Farm Bill, he said, “Extension is better than expiration; however, we’re going to do all we can to get a good bill passed in 2023.”

PCG CEO Kody Bessent, Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Pa.), PCG Vice President Travis Mires, and Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), at the Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie, Texas.

To prepare in the event he does become chair, Thompson has visited 35 states since January 2021, going on a listening tour of different agricultural sectors. In June 2021, he attended the West Texas Rural Summit and Tour in Lubbock, Texas, and surrounding areas. Plains Cotton Growers Inc. helped educate him on field research and assisted with a tour of the Meadow Farmers Cooperative Gin and Farmhouse Winery. This year, Thompson visited the Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie, Texas, in May as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture classing office in Memphis, Tennessee, and attended the Cotton Warehouse Association of America Annual Convention in June.

“I can learn the issues by talking to people about it, but I really like seeing it with my own eyes,” he said. “I want to experience it as the farmers, ranchers, foresters and processors experience it. It’s a blessing to meet all these folks in agriculture and an honor to bring their voices back to Washington D.C. as we work on the Farm Bill.”

While disaster assistance is a topic at hand when looking at the upcoming Farm Bill, Thompson’s concern is the possible weakening of crop insurance. “Are there trends or patterns consistently out there that should be incorporated into crop insurance? I think it’s something we need to think about when evaluating some of these existing programs. If we do implement a permanent disaster relief component, then I would like to see more timely payments.” Thompson also is cautious as to using permanent language. “If we have permanent disaster language in the bill, it will be harder to respond to the actual disasters that farmers, ranchers and foresters are responding to at any given moment.”

With inflation and input costs diminishing high market prices, Thompson is deeply concerned about profits for farm families. “At the end of the day, agriculture is a business,” he said in a Farm Bill Hearing conducted by the Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management. “It’s not about what you bring in — it’s about the profit margin you’re left with. Commodity prices can drop overnight, but once input costs are raised, they’re not going to come back down easily.”

While the journey wasn’t ‘traditional,’ the Boy Scout, sporting goods store worker, health care rehabilitation manager and school board member has always had one goal in mind: improve the lives of those around him. And if all goes as planned, he will chair the committee that writes the 2023 Farm Bill. If only 11-year-old GT could see himself now.

Quentin Shieldknight

Quentin Shieldknight's family

April 8, 2021

Quentin Shieldknight was in the worst shape of his life — or so he thought. “Man,” he said looking at one of his field hands while working in the grain bins, “There’s got to be something wrong here. I can’t breathe.”

Tomorrow I’m hitting the gym, he thought as he struggled to distract himself from the pain in his legs. He finds the auger plugged up at the bottom of the grain bin and he and his team begin kicking it and hitting it with a long rod trying to break up the clog. He starts panting, then panicking as he struggles to bring breath into his lungs. “Quentin, man, you got to get out of here,” the hands yelled at him. He slowly makes his way to his pickup holding his head in his hands, willing himself to calm down so he can breathe normally. He sits there for two hours. Something’s not right.

Shieldknight Land and Cattle: It’s a Family Affair

Quentin Shieldknight, a fourth-generation farmer, runs a family business planting corn and cotton while raising commercial and registered Red Angus cattle in Spearman, Texas. His dad, Fred, still shows up to work every day. “I’ve told him to go enjoy his grandkids and semi-retire,” Quentin said. “But he’s still boss and shows up every morning to run the show.”

His sister, Kelly Jack and her husband, Ty, are both heavily involved in the operation.  Kelly is the accountant and office manager, while Ty handles maintenance and manages cattle.  Quentin’s cousin, Colby, also works on the farm helping run the cattle side of the business, while aunt Marcia takes care of life insurance and generational succession planning.

His younger sister Clara developed the farm’s website and her husband, Chris, manages the farm’s security and information technology operations. They live and work in Borger, Texas, but have two boys, Cy, and Cal, who love coming to help at the farm, while simultaneously throwing dirt and calling coyotes.

Quentin went to Texas A&M University where he met his wife, Kristin. “Literally sat on the bus next to her on the way to ‘fish camp’ as incoming freshmen,” he added. They will be celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary this year and have three children: Kinley (14), Hayden (11) and Logan (8). Kristin is the director of innovation and technology for Spearman Independent School District, and their children are heavily involved in FFA, 4-H, athletics and, of course, the family farm.

April 9, 2021

After going to bed with a fever, Quentin gets up the next day to work cattle. However, he finally gives up at lunch and heads to the hospital. They run some tests and he lets the nurse know he can’t breathe. Pulse oxygen reading is questionable so they take an X-ray of his chest. It’s probably because I’ve been in a grain bin for two days, he thinks to himself, that’s why my lungs don’t sound right. After the X-ray, hospital staff decide to do a CT scan and tell Quentin to go home and keep his phone close — they’ll call in four to five hours when they get the results. They end up calling him 10 minutes later before he’s even left the hospital.

From Corn to Cotton

After earning his bachelor’s degree in agronomy and plant and soil science, Shieldknight became a certified crop adviser. He provided crop consulting in the Spearman area through a private company, an experience that enhanced his success in his own farming operation. Shieldknight Land and Cattle farms 10,000 acres and has 650 cows in the herd (not including calves and bulls).

Cotton is up in the rotation for this crop season, having planted mainly corn and milo last year. In May, Quentin and company planted 2,800 acres of irrigated cotton and about 3,000 acres of dryland. “We had our first circle of cotton in 2011, and it fared better than the corn did,” he said. “In preparation for this year, we are planting more cotton than corn hoping to make a decent crop.”

The Shieldknight farm engaged in conventional tillage practices until 2003. “I think my degree helped me bring some conservation practices back to the farm,” Shieldknight added. “When I came back, we started strip-tilling and we’re now a strip-till, minimum-till farm.” They also implemented cover crops into their operation in the last three years. “We’re still learning on that, but I think we’ll eventually get it figured out and reap the benefits,” he said.

Learning to apply cover crops in a low rainfall area has its challenges. So far, the Shieldknights have tried tillage radish, rapeseed, cow peas and winter peas. This summer, they’ll be planting some millet blends in combination with cow peas, working with Jeff Miller, owner of ForeFront Agronomy LLC. Since they planted corn and milo last year, they left the stalks up for cover this spring. “We’ve had fields blow out so many times and really don’t want that to happen this year,” he added. “I guess you could call us trashy cotton farmers.”

April 9, 2021

All of a sudden, everyone is in the emergency room lobby looking for him. A nurse grabbed his arm, saying, “Mr. Shieldknight, you need to go back to your room right now and I suggest you call your wife.” He lays down only to feel a huge needle immediately jabbed into his stomach. His primary care physician was driving in from out of town, battling 65 mile-per-hour winds to get to the hospital.

The emergency department attending physician walks into Quentin’s room. “You have blood clots in your lungs, Mr. Shieldknight,” he said. “They’re really bad — I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a set of lungs with this many clots in them, ever.”

All he could think of was, are you kidding me? And then it hit him. His uncle died from a blood clot in 2011. This is serious. The nurse places an oxygen mask over his face.

Crap Spreaders and Community Savers

Not only does Shieldknight run the family business, but last fall, he co-founded a gypsum and compost business with Caleb Patterson serving Spearman, Perryton, and Gruver areas. He said they don’t really have an official business name, adding, “We’re the crap spreaders — that’s the nicest way to say it anyway.”

Summertime is also beef time. Shieldknight Land and Cattle sells beef from Spearman all the way down to south of Houston, making them a state-wide beef operation.

They project to sell 80 whole beefs this year — they also sell quarters and half-sides.  “We’re blessed to be able to feed people,” Shieldknight added. “And it’s important that we do it the right way and help communities.”

To advance this effort, Shieldknight Land and Cattle will be opening beef stores where small towns have lost their grocers. They opened their first one in Shelby’s Bridge Gift & Thrift Shop in Sudan, Texas, this May. They are in talks with other small communities to help them bridge gaps in their meat supply as well.

April 9, 2021

While he’s trying to gather his composure, his aunt Marcia bursts into the room. Everyone is trying to talk to him, but she says, “Stop! I’m going to pray.” Everyone stops. And she prays, “Father God, please heal Quentin’s lungs, dissolve the clots, and be with the doctors and nurses as they care for him. Please heal him in Jesus’ name.” As a community pastor joins his aunt in prayer, the care team is calling an ambulance — though they wish it were a helicopter. “I have medivac insurance,” he tells them, giving a nurse his insurance card. The doctor calls the helicopter staff who say, “We can’t get there in this wind.” The doctor decides to send Quentin’s scans to the helicopter staff. They call back. “We’ll be there in 10 minutes.”

They transport him from Hansford Hospital to BSA Hospital in Amarillo, Texas. As he’s in flight, his labored breathing begins to ease to the point where he no longer needs the oxygen mask. A calm comes over him during the helicopter ride. I’m going to be OK, he says to himself. I’m going to be OK.

To this day, Quentin’s hematologist can’t believe he’s still alive. Every time, he walks into a follow-up appointment, the doctor says, “I’ve never seen that many clots in a set of lungs ever and the patient survive.”

Quentin has Factor V Leiden Thrombophilia, an inherited blood clotting disorder. He will be on blood thinners for the rest of his life. While farming is tough, staring death in the face can shift your perspective.

“How do you survive if you don’t have faith in the farming industry?” he asked. “I don’t know how you do it without faith. Besides 2011, I don’t know if it’s ever been this hard to just get going, get the crop in and stay motivated.

“But every day, I’m still breathing. Every day, I still have something to look forward to. I used to be in the worst mood every evening when I came home — made my family miserable. But lying in a hospital bed thinking that I was about to meet my Maker woke me up. This life is hard. It’s unfair. But the reward is just around the corner if we just keep going. It’s going to be a great year, one way or another.”

Tony Williams

Tony Williams at his desk in his office

20 Questions with Tony Williams

Today is Tony Williams’ last day working for the Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association (TCGA). I called him on Monday — his last day in the office — and since I knew he was busy getting ready for his annual ginners’ fishing trip, we played 20 questions.

1. What are you most looking forward to in retirement?

I met my wife, Lagina, in 2015 and we eventually married and live in Corpus Christi. So I’ve spent the past seven years driving back and forth from Austin to Corpus Christi. It will be nice to wake up on Monday morning knowing I don’t have to start the journey back to Austin. Plus, I’m looking forward to helping my wife run her business, Stover Equipment Co, Inc. and watching my step-daughter, Jayna, graduate college and my step-son, Jaxon, graduate high school.

Tony Williams and his family: Jaxon, Jayna and Lagina.

2. What would you consider your greatest accomplishment at TCGA?

The Texas Cotton Ginners’ Trust that we developed out of TCGA in 1994. It’s a separate entity now, but I was proud to be a part of developing a way for the cotton ginning industry to find affordable and available workers’ compensation insurance.

3. Is there anything that you weren’t able to accomplish?

Tony Williams cuts the ribbon at his first TCGA trade show as TCGA executive director in 1991.

It’s minor but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always admired the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Program member signs and wanted to provide that for our ginners to put on their outdoor sign or in their office. I’m sure the guys will take up that mantel.

4. What was your greatest challenge as executive vice president?

One month after I began working at TCGA, I was named executive vice president. That wasn’t the original plan, so I was thrown into the deep end pretty quickly. The support staff I had was new, too. I discussed the possibility of getting my old job back and telling the ginners to find someone else because I was only 26 years old, but they stuck with me. They had my back from day one and said they would take care of me no matter what. So I hit the ground running and never looked back.

5. That seems like an overwhelming life experience. What made you decide to stick it out?

Well, I like a challenge and I’m not afraid to tackle the hard tasks. I had a fire in me to be successful and the support of the ginners made me want to work hard for them.

6. What’s your favorite memory of your time at TCGA?

In 2005, I was given the TCGA Life Member award. My mom was always a special person in my life, and she wasn’t able to attend the award ceremony. I did not know I was the recipient and when they called my name, I realized they were broadcasting the ceremony to my mom so she could watch me receive it. That was a big deal in 2005. She ended up passing away that same year, so I was so grateful she was able to participate.

7. Do you have a favorite motivational quote?

I don’t know if this is a legitimate quote or if I made it up, but I always tell people, “Keep plowing forward.” I rarely look back — I just keep going — and I usually tell people to do the same thing. You can’t make progress if you’re not moving forward.

8. What’s your favorite song?

There are several but “Amarillo by Morning” by George Strait is probably my No. 1.

9. Who was your favorite co-worker? (winky face)

I can’t play favorites! But I have always said that the best thing I ever did was hire Kelly Green. He saved the gins on the environmental regulations. I still remember meeting Kelly at the Capitol building in Austin and offering him the job. I had a great team and they made me look good. I enjoyed working with everyone.

10. What piece of advice would you give aspiring professionals today?

Make sure the career you choose is something you are passionate about. I was very passionate about the job at TCGA. I had grown up around agriculture and knew that what TCGA did was important. Find what drives you and pursue it passionately.

11. Do you have any hobbies?

My favorite is probably saltwater fishing. I also play golf and enjoy bird hunting.

12. Do you have any pets?

Right now I have a Boxer named Ginger and a Shitzu (if you want to call it that) named Max. I love dogs but I ended up with a cat in the marriage named Reese. We get along O.K., but I’m just not much of a cat person.

13. What’s your favorite color?

Blue.

14. What’s your favorite sport to watch?

College football.

15. What’s your favorite food? (This might have been the toughest question I asked.)

Oh man, I’m going to say chicken-fried steak. I should probably say my wife’s roast, which is great. But I think I’ll stick with chicken-fried steak. Final answer.

16. Who would you consider your No. 1 mentor throughout your career?

There are two. Having lost my father at age 15, my FFA teacher Finus Branham took me under his care and set me on a path toward pursuing a career in agriculture. Clemon Montgomery, who was running Texas Cottonseed Crushers Association at the time, guided and helped me tremendously in learning the ropes in Austin and the Texas Legislature.

17. Looking back on your career, is there anything you would’ve done differently?

I wish I would’ve documented more stories from industry veterans and taken more photos of my time at TCGA.

 

18. Can you sum up your TCGA experience in one word?

Fortunate.

19. What was the coolest part of this job for you?

In this job, I touched every single person’s life every day. There’s a good chance that every person is either wearing some cotton or using it in household products. Or they’re using cottonseed oil in cooking or other products. It’s kind of corny but I like the fact that what I do impacts everyone’s life, because, in some form or fashion, everyone is consuming or using cotton.

20. What will you miss the most about TCGA?

The people are what make this industry great. Cotton is a lovely product. It does a lot for our region, state and world to produce the fiber we do here, but it’s produced and ginned by some amazing people. And that’s why I have loved what I do for the 33 years I was privileged to do it. I’ve been so blessed to have the opportunity to work in this industry.

TCGA Staff: Tony Williams, retired, Aaron Nelson, Communications Manager, Kelley Green, new executive vice president, and Duncan McCook, Regulatory Affairs Manager

 

Guyle Roberson

Guyle Roberson high fiving
Eight Seconds with Guyle Roberson 

Waiting for his turn to run drills, Guyle Roberson breathed in and out, clenching and unclenching his hands. Jogging in place, staring at the other players also working to change their destiny. This is it, he thought, this is my moment. My chance. They call his name. He steps out on the field. 

An hour later, he’s cut from the team.

Reflecting on chasing a football career, Roberson isn’t bitter, which says a lot about his character. An All-American offensive tackle at Lubbock Christian College (now Lubbock Christian University), he suffered a knee injury that hurt his chances of playing professionally. However, he didn’t quit. He worked his way up to playing for the Twin City Cougars, a minor league in California, and a good season there gave him his shot to try out for the Houston Oilers. 

Producer Seth Sowder and Guyle Roberson with the first ginned bale of cotton in 2021.

While he didn’t make a career out of playing football, the discipline and teamwork the sport taught him can be seen throughout his life. The farm boy from Amherst has had quite a ride so far. 

One Second …

Born and raised on a farm in Lamb County, Roberson was no stranger to working.  Farming alongside his father and brother was special. “While I never made a career out of farming,” he said, “I won’t ever forget how working with my family shaped me as a person.”

After football didn’t work out, Roberson worked for Lubbock Power and Light. He spent the next 21 years there working his way to manager of three departments and 45 employees. “Teamwork was crucial in that role,” Roberson said. “And, in a way, I believe it helped prepare me for the one I’m in now at Texas Producers Co-op.” 

Two Seconds …

In 2008, Roberson was approached by Amherst gin board members asking him to run the gin. When he walked in the doors that May, he locked eyes with all his old flag football and little league teammates, including his former little league baseball coach, and knew he had made the right decision. “It felt like a family reunion,” Roberson added. “I had been gone for a while and it was nice to be back home.” 

Guyle Roberson (right) with long-time patron Charles Hines from Littlefield, Texas.

Roberson is a numbers guy. He likes collecting data and measuring trends. He quickly automated the bale count system at the gin and analyzed components that led to inefficiency. Once he had measurements in place, he began prioritizing which concerns were of the greatest importance. 

Three Seconds …

The customers were also part of the analysis process. Roberson assessed where they could provide more value for customers and made strides to improve and maintain product quality both in and out of the gin. “We weren’t just ginning their cotton,” Roberson added. “We wanted to provide more than that.” It worked. The Amherst gin grew by 15% in Roberson’s first year. 

Four Seconds …

In 2016, Roberson was approached about a possible merger between Sudan’s gin and Amherst. He immediately went to his brother, who sat on the board for Amherst to get his opinion. The merger went through that June. 

Guyle Roberson with Greg Harper of Sudan, Texas.

“Mergers are…I guess emotional is the right word for it,” Roberson added. “A lot of emotions when merging two gins into one co-op.” 

The merger gave birth to the Texas Producers Cooperative Association — a $28 million company, averaging 105,000 ginned bales a year. 

 

Five Seconds …

While the primary function is ginning cotton, the Texas Producers Co-op doesn’t see a lot of downtime in the off-season. As soon as the last bale is ginned, the co-op begins preparing and planning for next year. “That’s when our agronomy season begins,” Roberson adds. “We start looking at seed varieties pretty quickly after ginning.” 

The co-op also runs a farm store and automotive shop year-round. 

Six Seconds … 

Roberson married his wife, Sherri, 31 years ago and has three children. His oldest daughter, Meagan Hunton, is a medical office manager in Amarillo, Texas. Randi Brooke Sheffey is a radiologist in Dimmitt, Texas, and the youngest, Shane Roberson, is a 3D prop artist in Austin, Texas. He also has a six-year-old granddaughter named Zoey. 

Guyle and Sherri Roberson

Guyle Roberson and his wife Sherri.

Roberson’s brother, Randy, was always the one he went to for advice. “He was my go-to, my rock,” Roberson said. “His character was unmatched.” 

When Sudan and Amherst merged, Randy decided to allow his board position to go up for re-election. “He volunteered to do that for me since I would be the CEO,” Roberson added. “He was afraid it would look bad for me to have my brother as an Amherst representative for the merged co-op. He was selfless like that.” 

Randy died suddenly on January 17th — the day after his 58th birthday. Twelve days before losing his brother, Roberson lost his mother. 

“My mother lived such a full life, leaving no stone unturned,” Roberson added. “What a blessing to be raised by her. Losing my brother was a total surprise. It’s been rough, but I was so blessed to love and be loved by both of them.”

Guyle Roberson and the Eight-Second Ride band. Members include: Guyle Roberson, lead vocals/guitar; Mike Ritchie from Springlake, Texas, on bass guitar; Clay Gibson from Levelland, Texas, on lead guitar, David Newton from Abernathy, Texas, on drums. Also pictured is PCG Director of Field Services Mark Brown from Lubbock, Texas, on fiddle.

 

Seven Seconds …

Roberson grew up singing in church and learned to play the guitar. In 1986 he formed a band and played gigs on the weekends. He’s currently the lead singer and guitar player for Guyle Roberson and the Eight-Second Ride. Sometimes, you can catch Mark Brown, PCG director of Field Services, playing the fiddle with the band.

Guyle Roberson and Sudan employee Beth Wallace.

Eight Seconds …

When he’s not singing and picking, he’s studying reports. All the entities of the co-op generate reports that he evaluates and transfers to an excel spreadsheet. “I want to be able to compare our operations to the month before or year before to make sure we’re on the right track,” Roberson added. “There’s always room for improvement and I would hate for us to become complacent, which would lead to loss of growth.” 

Roberson manages 40 full-time employees at the co-op and around 100 employees during ginning season. The teamwork spirit ingrained in him from sports is attributed to his success. “We wouldn’t be able to do this if we didn’t all work together,” he added. “Not only work together but work together well.” 

Roberson may not have achieved his initial dreams of professional football, but he couldn’t ask for a better destiny than the one he’s been given. 

Lloyd Arthur

Lloyd Arthur and family in cotton field

The best time to call a farmer is when they’re on the tractor, according to Lloyd Arthur, a producer in Crosby County who had some time on his hands to chat as he prepared his fields for planting season. 

Q: How long have you been farming?

A: I started in 1981. I partnered with my dad and brother, which later turned into a partnership with one of my sons and my wife. Our operation is about one-third of the size it was at one time; however, I’ve learned that bigger is not always better. 

Q: Was farming always the dream? 

A: No, in fact, I told my dad at my high school graduation that I’d never farm. I guess never say never. I grew up in it and thought there were bigger and better things out there and wanted to try something different.  

Q: But…you’re farming? 

A: Well, I did help on the farm through college to help pay for school, but never thought it would be my livelihood. Then my junior year at Texas Tech University, I came down with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which is a rare disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. After spending two semesters in the hospital, I didn’t finish college. I rearranged my priorities after laying in the hospital bed near death and went back to my roots. Spending 70-some-odd days in the hospital at 24 years old changed me as a person and I decided family and heritage were more important. I’ve been farming since. 

Q: What is special to you about your farm?

A: Well, I was born and raised a quarter mile from where I currently farm. When my mother passed away, I found many historical things while organizing her estate. One document I found proves that my grandfather on my dad’s side was enrolled in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cotton Tag Exemption Program. Evidently, you paid a tax to get a bale tag unless you had tax exemption papers like the ones I have of my grandfather’s. I have a collection of gin signs as well that are housed in a building we built on the farm for people to come out and tour our operation or some community organizations use it for board meetings. 

Q: Do you have any hobbies? 

A: My ‘therapy’ as I call it is restoring and refurbishing classic cars. I don’t get to do it as much as I would like, but I have a couple of cars that I’ve restored with my brother and my children. My wife collects animals. She’s got rabbits, horses, quail, miniature donkeys — sometimes I don’t even want to go out to the barn because I’m afraid there’s going to be even more animals in there. We have some Labrador puppies out there right now if anyone’s interested. 

Q: What keeps you going in the tough years?

A: First and foremost you need to have passion for what you do. I’m passionate about this. I used to be a little too passionate where every little thing would just send me into a tailspin, but I’ve mellowed over the years and I don’t worry so much about what I can’t control. Because, in farming, most of it is out of your control. I put my blood, sweat, and tears into this ground every year, and I enjoy the challenge of bringing in a crop. 

And seeing your children grow up in a lifestyle where they can walk out the door and entertain themselves outside for hours. You can’t put a price on the type of freedom farmland gives you or that my children had in this environment. It makes children resourceful — mine were always building things. When My son, Brady, was a senior in high school and my older son, David, was a freshman in college they designed a pivot service crane, which has been patented. My oldest daughter, MaKayla, works at the Texas Capitol advocating for agriculture and my youngest daughter, Jadeyn, is in the first class at the new Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine. The resiliency and resourcefulness of my children comes in large part, I think, from the environment they were raised in. And that’s why I farm.